Image: Friends, colleagues and family members mourn the death of Luis Carlos Santiago during his funeral in Ciudad Juarez
Alejandro Bringas  /  Reuters
Friends, colleagues and family members mourn the death of Luis Carlos Santiago during his recent funeral in Ciudad Juarez. Santiago, a 21-year old news photographer working with Juarez-based newspaper El Diario, was killed Thursday in an attack by gunmen.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 9/23/2010 5:02:56 AM ET 2010-09-23T09:02:56

President Felipe Calderon announced a plan Wednesday to protect journalists in Mexico, where violence against reporters has surged since the government launched a crackdown on drug traffickers nearly four years ago.

The plan includes an early warning system in which reporters would have immediate access to authorities when threatened, the creation of a council to identify the causes behind attacks on reporters, legal reforms, and a package of "best practices" in journalism, according to a statement from Calderon's office.

Coming almost a week after a newspaper photographer was killed in the violent border city of Ciudad Juarez, Calderon's announcement was issued after he met with members of the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Inter-American Press Association. The program will be implemented starting next month.

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The Inter-American Press Association raised the need to make attacks on the news media a federal crime, establish higher penalties and ensure no statue of limitations be set on these cases, said the group's vice president, Gonzalo Marroquin.

"We came to Mexico with the intention of expressing solidarity with the government, with the people of Mexico, and with journalists and media in this country," Marroquin said in a statement.  "We want to build a common front against violence and thereby protect the fundamental right of citizens to be informed."

President Calderon on Wednesday also announced the arrest of a suspect in the murder of leading Ciudad Juarez reporter Armando Rodríguez Carreón in 2008, a slaying shook and demoralized Mexico's press corps. The suspect and his accomplices had been motivated by Rodriguez’s coverage of drug trafficking, Mexican officials said.

Spiraling violence
Gang violence has spiraled upward in Mexico since Calderon began an offensive against organized crime when he took office in December 2006. Drug violence has taken more than 28,000 lives as rival cartels fight each other and stage increasingly bold attacks on security forces, government officials and journalists.

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At least 22 Mexican journalists have been killed and at least seven others have gone missing over the past four years, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Mexico's plan resembles one put in place in Colombia at the height of drug related violence in the South American country, Marroquin said. He said the program in Colombia was successful and included moving threatened journalists out of the areas where they worked and not adding bylines to stories on Colombia's cocaine business.

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Calderon's announcement comes a week after the killing of a photographer for the El Diario newspaper in Ciudad Juarez. Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, was ambushed last Thursday while driving a car linked to a Chihuahua state human rights commission member who had received several threats in what authorities say in possibly a case of mistaken identity.

The largest newspaper in Ciudad Juarez on Sunday called for a truce with the border city's warring drug cartels after the killing of its photographer , the second of its journalists to be slain in less than two years.

In a front-page editorial, El Diario de Juarez asked the cartels what they want from the newspaper so it can continue its work without further death, injury or intimidation of its staff.

Marroquin said that as long as measures such as the journalists' protection plan are implemented and authorities pursue killers, a message will be sent to organized crime that there will be consequences for the attacks.

"The media should be very firm so that organized crime understands that when a journalist is assaulted they are attacking all of society," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photos: Mexico Under Siege

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  1. A tattooed man stands on a hill overlooking Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, one of the most dangerous cities in the world, on Dec. 20, 2008. Cartels have launched a wave of violence against the government of President Felipe Calderon since it began a crackdown on organized crime in 2006. According to the attorney general’s office there were 5,370 drug-related homicides in the year to Dec. 2, 2008. That is double the 2007 number. Juarez alone saw an estimated 1,600 such slayings. And the deaths can be horrific – victims have been tortured, beheaded or dissolved in acid. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Inside the car where Marisela Granados de Molinar was killed on Dec. 3 alongside her boss, Jesus Martin Huerta Hiedra, a deputy prosecutor in the Mexican city of Juarez. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Federal police search cars at an impromptu checkpoint near the U.S. border on Nov. 10, 2008. In the late 1980s the United States stemmed the flow of cocaine from South America through the traditional trade routes in the Caribbean. Looking for alternate ways into the U.S., South American cartels began to run drugs through Central America and Mexico, and now the vast majority of illegal drugs flow through this corridor. Facing the recent slew of deaths and corruption scandals among all levels of the police, the government has deployed 45,000 soldiers to fight the cartels as well. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Missing person signs litter the walls of local police stations in Juarez. Kidnapping is integral to the drug-running business and the general lawlessness accompanying it. Before the latest surge in drug violence, Juarez was infamous for another gruesome string of crimes – the kidnapping and murder of young women. There have been 508 such incidents since 1993, according to the state government. When the bodies do show up, many have been raped and mutilated. Many believe that most of these deaths are related to gang initiation rituals. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. El Diario newspaper's Armando Rodriquez was murdered outside his home while warming up his car on Nov. 13, 2008. The 40-year-old crime reporter was killed in front of his 8-year-old daughter who he was about to drive to school. Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Since 2000, 25 have been killed there. In addition, seven journalists have disappeared since 2005. Many reporters refuse to put their bylines on stories, and many newspapers have stopped covering the drug gangs altogether. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The body of El Diario's Rodriquez -- killed in his car outside his house while his family watched in November 2008 -- is taken away in a body bag by an ambulance. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A U.S. official stands beside a recently discovered cache of drugs on the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border crossing. In December, the United States delivered $197 million to Mexico, the first stage of a $400-million package to buy high-tech surveillance aircraft, airport inspection equipment, and case-tracking software to help police share intelligence. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Men and boys shoot heroin in a "picadero," or shooting gallery, in Ciudad Juarez on the banks of the Rio Grande, just across from the United States. Thousands of picaderos, some serving as many as 100 customers a day, are said to exist in Juarez alone. Drug use and addiction among Mexicans has exploded recently, with the number of known addicts almost doubling to 307,000 in six years. Most experts assume these numbers dramatically undercount the problem. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Patrons and workers mingle at Hollywood strip club in downtown Juarez. With American sex tourism on the decline due to the dramatic increase in murder and violence, the few remaining strip clubs have become common hangouts for narcotics traffickers, or ‘narcos.’ (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A man walks in front of 24-hour funeral parlor. The death industry is booming in Juarez where an estimated 1,600 people were murdered in 2008. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Neighbors and family of slain Alberto Rodriquez, 28, watch and cry as the authorities descend on the crime scene. Rodriguez was killed in his car outside his house while his family watched. (Shaul Schwarz) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A bus carrying women and children drives by the site where David Rodriguez Gardea, 42, and Antonio Bustillos Fierro, 38, were gunned down on Nov. 12, 2008. The agents had led an investigation resulting in the arrests of gang members suspected in dozens of murders. The cartels are killing police officers at an unprecedented rate, especially at the border. Gangs have been breaking into police radio frequencies to issue death threats. "You're next, bastard ... We're going to get you," an unidentified drug gang member said over the police radio in the city of Tijuana after naming a policeman, Reuters reported recently. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A U.S. border patrol officer stands behind bullet-scared bullet-proof glass on the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border. Although border agents do not get shot at often they are self-described "sitting ducks." The cartels and drug traffickers send messages of terror through such examples. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The casket of David Miranda Ramirez, 36, is carried by fellow police at his funeral on Nov. 13, 2008. An estimated 50 of Ciudad Juarez’s police officers were killed in 2008 in incidents blamed on drug gangs. Many officers have quit out of fear for their lives, often after their names have appeared on hit lists left in public. While some police have been killed, others are being lured into cooperating with the cartels. Theses gangs have “enormous economic power, and behind that, enormous power to corrupt and intimidate,” says Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Family of slain police officer Miranda Ramirez mourn his loss at his funeral. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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